Fry

Crab Cakes

March 13, 2020
5 Stars
Photo by TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.
Author Notes

The classic problem with crab cakes is that they fall apart without enough bread crumbs, but they taste bland with too many. Which is why we found the optimal ratio to ensure your crab cakes will have great crab flavor without falling apart.

For inspiration in developing this recipe, we reflected on some of the best Baltimore crab cakes we’ve ever eaten—at Shultz’s Crab House, Faidley Seafood, and Koco’s Pub. Our recipe seeks to replicate the best features of these Baltimore classics: the maximum amount of crab meat, minimal binder to hold it all together, and a luscious moist interior.

It’s imperative to use the highest quality crab meat you can get your hands on. Without good crab meat, there’s basically no point in making crab cakes. Crab meat from Chesapeake blue crabs is traditional, but not essential. Just make sure you’re sourcing blue crab meat from a purveyor you trust.

There’s an age-old debate about whether to use jumbo lump or backfin meat for crab cakes. Jumbo lump is more expensive, but has a firmer, meatier texture. Backfin is known for its lacey texture and sweet flavor. After testing both, we preferred the jumbo lump, because it delivered a cleaner crab flavor. However, either option works in this recipe.

For bread crumbs, we decided to use panko, a Japanese variety of flaky breadcrumbs. While crushed saltines are a popular option in Baltimore, we love panko because its flavor is mild, and it does an excellent job of binding the crab.

When it comes to flavoring, we kept it simple: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Old Bay (a seasoning mix that includes celery salt, black pepper, and paprika), and lemon juice. We considered adding other flavor elements like hot sauce or worcestershire but, in the end, we wanted to highlight the crab flavor, not overpower it, so we held back on those extra condiments. For the same reason, we decided to skip fresh herbs. We considered parsley, tarragon, chives, and scallions—and a lot of recipes go this route but for us, the best crab cake comes with restraint.

The final decision: to fry or bake? For the crispiest crust and most succulent interior, frying is the way to go. It’s a bit of extra work to flip the crab cakes on the stovetop, but the reward is well worth it.
Josh Cohen

  • Prep time 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Makes 8 large crab cakes
Ingredients
  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Canola oil, for frying (or any neutral high-heat oil)
  • Lemon slices, for garnish
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Transfer the crab meat to a large bowl and pick through it to make sure there are no pieces of shell.
  2. Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Old Bay, and Dijon. Gently stir to combine. Add the panko and gently stir again. Some of the larger pieces of crab meat will inevitably shred—that's okay; just try to keep as many intact as you can. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight, in the fridge.
  3. When you’re ready to fry, use your hands to divide the crab mixture into 8 round patties (firmly packed, about 2 ½ inches in diameter). Set a medium skillet over medium heat, and add enough canola oil to reach a ¼-inch depth. When the oil is between 350°F and 375°F, you can begin to fry the crab cakes. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can sacrifice a small piece of a crab cake and add it to the oil in order to see how hot your oil is.)
  4. Fry the crab cakes in batches to avoid crowding the skillet. Add the first round to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until the crust is golden brown. Try to jostle the crab cakes as little as possible (they’re delicate). To flip as carefully as possible, I like using a fish spatula in one hand and a slotted metal spoon in the other. When the crab cakes are done, remove them to a rimmed baking pan lined with paper towels or a wire rack if you’d prefer not to use paper towels.
  5. Repeat with the remaining crab cakes. When they’re all out of the pan, serve right away with lemon wedges.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee
  • Josh Cohen
    Josh Cohen
  • Todd H
    Todd H
  • Gary  Rohrback
    Gary Rohrback

13 Reviews

Todd H. February 6, 2021
I have made this recipe a few times and it's my favorite. I have used Jumbo lump, and premium lump crab meat and both are terrific. I mix the mayo, lemon, Old Bay, and dijon first to incorporate everything evenly. Crab is delicate so this cuts down on mixing. I use cling wrap and a 1/3c measuring cup to form each crab cake and they're the perfect size if you want to serve 2 for each person. I love that this recipe has just a few ingredients so the Crab can shine as the star.
 
Gary R. September 28, 2020
I don't know how you can get 8 crabcakes out of 1 pound of crab meat! Must be feeding munchkins or my grandson! I got 4 nice size ones out of one pound and WOW was the taste. Naked is best. I remember going down to a Phillips outlet store around 40 yrs ago. I asked the security guard how he ate them( because I was a lobster man from New England and never had crabcakes, and his answer was a bit of good butter, that's all.
 
angelitakarmalita September 22, 2020
Love, love this recipe!! I am an admitted crab cake snob and I would rarely consider eating (unless offered by a gracious host) a crab cake made with all sorts of extra stuff in them, and I would never make one myself with extra ingredients in them. These are perfect and delicious and everything a crab cake should be!!
 
Author Comment
Josh C. September 22, 2020
Thanks for this excellent feedback!
 
Joie August 22, 2020
I live on the Chesapeake, so I know the crabcake well. Recipe is an excellent starting point, but too much breadcrumb. I've made it several times now; much improved when breadcrumb cut it to 1/4 cup. Coating outside with additional crumb sounded great; it wasn't -eliminated the step. Flipping them when frying remains a problem, for this and every crabcake recipe, no matter how long they're chilled. Half the table gets pieces. My solution - fry, and remove to a baking sheet covered with release foil to broil tops until golden.
 
Joie August 22, 2020
I live on the Chesapeake, so I know the crabcake well. Recipe is an excellent starting point, but too much breadcrumb. I've made it several times now; much improved when breadcrumb cut it to 1/4 cup. Coating outside with additional crumb sounded great; it wasn't -eliminated the step. Flipping them when frying remains a problem, for this an every crabcake recipe, no matter how long they're chilled. Half the table gets pieces. My solution - fry, and remove to a baking sheet covered with release foil to broil tops until golden.
 
Maggie March 17, 2020
I am curious about the crab meat. Is it ok to use the pasteurized crab meat in cans/containers that are in the seafood section? They are usually still expensive- like $30-$40 a pound. I would imagine using fresh crab meat is the best but it's really expensive and not always available. Is it still worth making with the canned crab meat?
 
Susan S. March 17, 2020
Baltimore girl here. I only buy/eat blue crabs when in season. Same thing with tomatoes, asparagus and corn.
 
Author Comment
Josh C. March 18, 2020
Hi Maggie, we tested this recipe using pasteurized jumbo lump crab meat, and we were pleased with the taste and texture!
 
Todd H. October 30, 2020
I agree with chef Josh. I always have pasteurized blue crab on hand from The Lobster Place in NYC, it's just as delicious and works well with this recipe.
 
Susan S. March 16, 2020
Baltimore girl here. I recommend tha you change the order of your steps: shape the mixture in to 8 cakes, refrigerate for at least one hour, and then pan fry in clarified butter with a little olive oil. Crab and butter together are a marriage made in Heaven, and you won't need tarter or cocktail sauce. Go naked on the crabcakes.
 
Coral L. March 13, 2020
Yum! I'd never before had such a creamy/tender crab cake!
 
Author Comment
Josh C. March 13, 2020
Thanks Coral! When I was in Baltimore recently, I was really inspired by how tender and luscious the interior of some of their crab cakes were, so that’s the inspiration with this recipe.